NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 20, 2005

Patients who undergo bariatric surgery face a higher risk of death related to the procedure than previously thought, and elderly patients have a particularly high risk, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers led by David Flum, an associate professor of surgery at the University of Washington, analyzed data from 16,155 Medicare beneficiaries who underwent any kind of bariatric surgery between 1997 and 2002. The patients had an average age of 48.

  • The researchers found that 2 percent of participants died in the first month after surgery, while nearly 3 percent died in the first three months and 5 percent in the first year after the procedure.
  • Men who underwent the weight-loss procedure faced double the mortality risk of women; 3.7 percent of men died within the first 30 days after surgery, compared with 1.5 percent of women.
  • In addition, the study says that 7.5 percent of men died within a year, compared with 3.7 percent of women.

The researchers also found that older patients have a higher risk of death, with 4.8 percent of participants ages 65 and older dying within the first month, nearly twice the death risk for seniors who undergo common procedures such as coronary revascularization or hip replacement. Causes of death included heart attacks, strokes, shock related to surgery, infections, malnutrition and bowel problems.

Source: David R. Flum et al., "Early Mortality Among Medicare Beneficiaries Undergoing Bariatric Surgical Procedures," Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 294, No. 15, October 19, 2005.

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